Often associated with celebrations, social outings and sometimes even tough days at the office, alcohol goes along with various life experiences. However, when pouring a glass of wine or cracking a cold one, most don’t consider the long-term effects of alcohol on the body. While heavy drinking is usually linked with liver problems, alcohol also hurts your heart health.
Heart Disease Numbers
The statistics around heart disease are already hard to believe.
“Each year in the United States, 610,000 people die from heart disease – that’s one in every four deaths, making heart disease the leading cause of death for both American men and women,” Cardiologist, Dr. Wassef Karrowni, M.D. UnityPoint Health said. “Nationally, the number of adults with diagnosed heart disease is 27.6 million, accounting for 11.5 percent of the adult population.”
Now, add moderate to heavy alcohol use to these numbers, and heart health becomes an even scarier problem.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
Excessive drinking or binge drinking, in combination with poor or worsening heart health, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As Dr. Karrowni describes, long-term effects of alcohol can result in several heart problems.
“Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood (triglycerides), lead to high blood pressure and heart failure. It also causes increased calorie intake, which can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes,” Dr. Karrowni said.
It doesn’t stop there. Continued alcohol consumption can contribute to other heart conditions, such as stroke, fetal alcohol syndrome, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death. Another heart condition which can develop from heavy drinking is alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
“Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a condition where drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time leads to heart failure. Due to the direct toxic effects of alcohol on heart muscle, the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently, leading to heart failure, as the heart becomes enlarged and the heart muscle thins,” Dr. Karrowni said.
While heart disease impacts both men and women, Dr. Karrowni also notes how alcohol puts women at more risk.
“Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle than men, even for women drinking at lower levels,” he said.
Everything in Moderation
Depending on your situation, you can still enjoy a drink-of-choice from time to time, as long as it’s in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines “moderation” as up to one alcoholic drink per day for women and up to two alcoholic drinks per day for men. These guidelines also encourage individuals who don’t currently drink, not to start.
Although some sources seem to suggest alcohol can help prevent heart problems from developing, Dr. Karrowni advises not to follow that line of thought.
“The best-known effect of alcohol is a small increase in HDL cholesterol. Additionally, alcohol or some substances, such as resveratrol, found in alcoholic beverages may prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together, which may reduce clot formation and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. However, based on the recommendations from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the American Heart Association, no one should begin drinking or drink more frequently based on potential health benefits,” Dr. Karrowni said.
The choices you make today can influence your health tomorrow and for years to come. If you have questions about your alcohol consumption or heart health, talk to your UnityPoint Health provider.